I have traveled a lot and I have lived in a wide variety of places. Each one of them has a “thing”….a stereotype that annoyingly distinguishes it from other places. For example, when we lived in Houston, the “thing” was tailgating. It mattered not if I was driving 5 miles ahead of another car, the car behind me would speed up so that it could accompany me on my journey from 2″ behind my bumper.
The thing in New England…one annoying thing, is that people would often say, “It’s against Federal law…” . Once, John and I requested that a paint store sales person do a custom paint mix for us. “Can’t. It’s against Federal law!” the guy said. We heard this frequently…and no, we were not attempting to actually break any Federal laws. The other New England “thing” was that cars would stop at corners and wait for another car to approach. Just as another car would almost make it to the intersection, the New England car in waiting would pull out in front of the approaching car. Weird habit, that….but it happened frequently. In Boston…forget about it. ugh. Oh…and another New Englandism…saying the obvious. “To avoid catching a cold, dress appropriately for the weather.” um…ok.
In Manhattan, it would be those people who would walk quickly past while yelling, “On your left!!” if they were approaching from the left, and, “On your right!!!” if they were approaching from the right. They were all SO busy and important….(whether they actually were or not). Personally, I keep my mouth shut when I’m walking past someone. When I’m on a bike and sharing a path with pedestrians, I will say, “On your left…” but I find it necessary to do this quite infrequently….and I never “bark” the words loudly.
I am intentionally stereotyping…because this post is about stereotypes…and yes, I acknowledge that it is wrong to stereotype…but it’s my blog and I’ll stereotype if I wanna….
In Portland, the “thing” is a matter of personal space.
When I lived in Houston, I had an acquaintance named Peggy Spott who was originally from here in Portland. When one would walk with her, she had this way of taking up personal space that is indicative of a Portland native. As she would converse, she would sort of lean into the person with whom she was walking, and take up that person’s space, causing her walking companion to have to step to the side. Peg was a leaner. She drove the same way. She would drive slowly down the street and other cars would swerve to avoid her. The funny thing is, she had no earthy idea. Reminded me, at the time, of Mr. McGoo. It was a general lack of awareness of those around her, I think…. It happened time and again, and when I think back, that is one of the characteristics of Peggy that stand out in my mind. Her other friends used to note that about her and chuckle fondly behind her back . I chuckle less fondly as I recall. Now that I live in Portland, I find this personal space thing a real issue. A lot of people do the leaning thing. It is as though they are unaware that someone else is actually IN the space that they are trying to occupy. All up in their own heads, they are.
I can be sitting in a coffee shop, the only person there. There will be 6 or 7 empty tables, and it never fails that someone will come into the shop and sit down right beside me….and I mean RIGHT BESIDE me! If I am in a clothing store browsing, the whole damned store can be empty except for me, and some person will walk up and begin looking RIGHT where I am looking, or will stand there, arms folded, toe tapping, waiting for me to finish so they can stand EXACTLY where I am standing and look EXACTLY where I am looking.
Many Portlanders seem to have a herd mentality. This is not, necessarily, a bad thing. The folks in this city are friendly and love to socialize with one another….and with strangers….but I am a person who prefers a lot of personal space around me. I am quiet, and tend to speak when I have something to say, rather than just to hear myself talk. When I check out at the grocery store, I do not enjoy the Portlander who walks up to my cart, examines its contents and makes comments about same….that that’s just me, I suppose. When I find myself a nice, wide open space to settle in with a good book, I do not enjoy the person, the stranger, who decides that my decision was a good one and who sits down beside me when there are ACRES of empty space everywhere.
Once, my friend Katy and I went to a matinee in Houston. We walked to the entrance of the theater, looked in, and saw only one person in the entire theater. Just to be funny, Katy walked down one isle as I walked down the other. When we arrived at the isle in which the man was sitting, she entered from one direction and I entered from the other. We both sat on either side of him and passed our popcorn back and forth in front of him. The three of us had a good laugh about it at the time, but today, I roll my eyes, because that is very much what it is like here in Portland.
I am getting more accustomed to the Portland crowding thing and am much less irritated with it than I used to be, but I still enjoy my personal space…..a lot of it.
So please….would you mind standing OVER THERE?!